In the last year or so, I’ve been trying to focus on self care and what it looks like in my life. I’ve decided to start a new (semi) regular blog series called Self Care Is, but I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to look like yet. Self care means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, many of whom know a whole hell of a lot more about it than I do. But I view it as a journey and since I’m inclined to share my life in this space, I figured I’d invite you along in the journey as well.
One of the most powerful self care tools I have in my arsenal is the idea of owning your emotions. It wasn’t taught to me in a self care context, but it has positively transformed my life from the jump. I learned about this idea at my church, first trying it at a weekend retreat here or there, then taking part in a weekly small group I was a member of, and eventually implementing it into my daily journaling routine.
The concept is quite simple. First you take a moment to explore what you’re feeling in your body. Are you feeling butterflies in your stomach or maybe tension in your shoulders? How are you carrying yourself today, even as you just sit with yourself, eyes closed? What follows is called a check in that you can do by yourself, with a partner, or with a group. You can check in with the following emotions: sadness, anger, fear, joy, excitement, tenderness, shame, peace, hope, gratitude. To check in, you say “I’m [Hannah] and I’m checking in X, Y, and Z.” Name every emotion you’re feeling and even name the reason, if you so choose. The only thing you can’t do is add a condition to it. You can’t say “I’m checking in a little angry today.” Instead, own your anger. Don’t minimise it by saying “I’m a little frustrated today.” Frustration falls under the category of anger. Own that. (By the way, I consider tenderness to be something like “my heart really goes out to this person/situation”. Like I’m tender to this person because they’re sick or I’m tender to these people because of this event.)
Learning it at church also included looking to the Bible for the times Jesus felt those emotions. And he did feel those core emotions, which means it’s okay for us to feel them too. All of those emotions are healthy and part of life and owning that you feel that way keeps them healthy. When you ignore your anger, you can lose control of it more easily. It’s like trying to hold a beach ball under water. You can’t control when it will pop out or what direction it will go. It’s an inevitability that it will come back up.
Owning my emotions has transformed so much in my life. Like I said, it became part of my daily journaling. I used to write out what I was feeling and why, but now I just track it on a colour-coded chart in my bullet journal. Luke and I would check in with each other over Skype and later over dinner when I moved, but that’s kind of fallen by the wayside. Still, I’m more careful with my words when I’m communicating my feelings to someone else, especially Luke. (I’m not perfect, but I’m better than I was.) I don’t have as much fear in telling Luke if I’m angry at him or about something. I don’t downplay it with a “little bit” or a “kind of” as much and I’m less likely to say “I’m irritated” or “I’m frustrated” because what’s irritation and frustration but a nicer way to say angry?
At the suggestion of my counselor earlier this year, I started tracking patterns in my check ins. I tally up how many times I month I felt each of the ten emotions and consider what was causing me to feel those things. I’ve noticed that I have one of two baselines: sadness or joy. On rather uneventful days especially, I usually check in one of the two. So I can note if I spent most of the last few weeks being sad or happy. (From November until about February it was more often sadness, but the last few months it’s been more often joy.) I also credit check ins to helping me discover more about my anxiety in the last year. I was able to pick up on a pattern of checking in scared and dive into what’s causing that and make moves to deal with it. Without a check in, it might have registered as a prolonged feeling of dread, but maybe nothing even notable enough to explore further.
It’s a powerful thing when you take ownership of your emotions. It teaches you a lot about yourself when you track the patterns of your emotions on a daily basis. It will bring things to the surface that you might not have known were there, but it might also empower you to make adjustments to be more in control of what you’re feeling as a baseline and how you’re reacting to the things around you.
What does self care look like to you? Let me know in the comments and remember there is no right or wrong answer!